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Harnessing Peacocks (1990)

Harnessing Peacocks (1990)
3.85 of 5 Votes: 5
0140123938 (ISBN13: 9780140123937)
penguin books
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Harnessing Peacocks (1990)
Harnessing Peacocks (1990)

About book: For those of you who are not familiar with Mary Wesley, here's a brief introduction; She was kick-ass with a capital K. Need more info? Fair enough. Born in 1912 she lived till the fairly grand age of 90 and racked up ten novels and a CBE all of which was achieved after her 70th birthday. When not writing best sellers and scandalising what was left of so called "polite society" in the 1980s she was ( and this is supposition on my part) busy outliving and outdoing most people who were less than half her age. With an affair and two marriages under her belt she had a liberal attitude to sex, swearing and thumbing her nose at wannabe posh knobs with sticks up their arses.Most famous for writing The Camomile Lawn, she continues on a similar series of themes in Harnessing Peacocks by penning the liberal tale of Hebe, 19 year old runaway turned part time cook and call girl. With a 12 year old son to support (the product of a fiesta based liason in Italy while learning to be a Cordon Bleu cook, as you do) Hebe juggles men like hot scones as her "syndicate" of gentlemen move in ever decreasing circles which is bound to end in them all running into one another at some point. Hinjinks and whatnot will ensue.Hebe is supported by a lively group of characters including some feisty old ladies who are no strangers to intrigue and foreign liasons themselves. In addition there's Terry the French knicker wearing dilettante, Rory the mad hatter ( yes an actual milliner) and a dog called Feathers. Mary is here to remind us that even posh people, old people and heaven forbid even your parents shag and sex is not something invented by the yoofs.

Can a woman whose family holds a family conference to decide and plan her abortion manage successfully to steal away in the night and run away to make a life for herself and her unborn child? It appears so. Hebe lives in a quiet English village with her son, Silas, and manages by working as a private chef to a few elderly ladies for a few weeks at a time, and a prostitute to select men, a group she calls, her Syndicate. The latter career is of course, not a well known fact, and most of her clients, carefully chosen, communicate with her only through letters sent to a Pakistani store. With her chosen lifestyle, Hebe lives a quiet but contented life, earning enough for the stiff tuition fees at Silas's private school.Silas comes home for the holidays but goes off to spend 3 weeks with a friend whose family have invited him on a sailing vacation. As Hebe contemplates the change in plans, she decides to offer her cooking services to one of her elderly clients for the time that Silas will be away with his friend. Things start to unravel, when one of her clients learns that she is to be at his mother's friend's place, a rather shy nephew meets Hebe, a stranger meet with Silas and one of her clients becomes her friend. Wonderfully humorous with a touch of whimsy.
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Deborah Purdon
I picked up an old, yellowed paperback copy of Harnessing Peacocks because the cover had a pretty still life on the cover and because the author was English. I was vaguely aware of Mary Wesley, but didn't know much about her or her work. When I started reading and learned pretty early on that Hebe, the main character, is a prostitute, or a "tart" I thought, "oh boy, what have I gotten myself into?". I don't usually read books about prostitutes. But that is what this novel is all about - breaking barriers, dispelling preconceived notions, making social commentary. It is a bit dated, since it was written in the mid-80's, but that, combined with its Englishisms, and some slight anti-Americanisms sprinkled here and there, only add to the novel's charms. I can't wait to read more of Mary Wesley, who, thankfully, wrote a pile of novels.
I had no idea what to expect when I sat down with this book 'cold', reading it because I'm going to a lecture about the author and this particular book from her works. At first I struggled with where it was going, then started to see the fine line of irony Wesley was laying down down...and then it blew into a farce, a comedy of manners, and was deliciously entertaining. By the end I was laughing. It's sexy, bright and unapologetic with humorously odd characters (or are they more normal than the book suggests?). Just plain fun to read. My copy includes an introduction from her son Toby Eady, to whom the book is dedicated. It may well be that this was the book that explained her many lovers to her son. It also contains one of her frequent themes (according to Wikipedia): the affirmation of illegitimacy - which again relates to Toby, the result of an affair with a Czech war hero. This is my first Mary Wesley but hopefully not my last! And incidentally, the title is perfect. The main character is Hebe Rutter. In Greek mythology Hebe is the messenger of the gods, the peacock harnesser. The meaning of her name is mentioned several times through the book, but there is a particularly lovely part right at the end. What a find.
Pamela Mclaren
A young woman finds herself pregnant and surprised that her family aren't going to be supportive (in fact, they plan to get her an abortion without consulting her), she runs away and 13 years later, the book really begins. Because Hebe is living life on her terms as a cook and a "tart," and supporting her son, Silas, surrounded by a loving group of people who are both clients and friends. Everything goes well until the separate strands of her life become tangled — her son goes on a trip to an island with a family that confuses and irritates him, Hebe goes off to cook for one of her clients and two of her lovers not only find out about each other, they come to face to face.This is a loving book about people you will care about and wish the best. Its a whole different book from what I've read before and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it.
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